I am an above average climber. Adam is better than me by maybe a grade or two, but together we are nothing more than an above average team. We'll never do the Eiger, we'll never do the Cassin Ridge and may or may not get up the Nose someday. But we do get lots of good stuff done for two mid thirties dads who have eight kids between us. Our church friends and chubby hikers we pass on the trail think we are total hardmen. We like to let them. We have to be pretty humble in our 5.8ness when we get around road trippers, full time climbers, or anybody we have ever read about in a magazine. We call our big three day end of season trip "Project Mayhem" because it sounds kinda dangerous and noble. Stolen from an epic Jim Beyer adventure, the name lends some element of bravery to our otherwise moderate route selection. Our goal is always the same. Three days, three summits. We don't like crowds. We'll sleep anywhere. We seek adventure and the alpine high but we like to keep the risk level manageable. Our sights this year were set for the West Ridge of Conness and or Matthes crest, but with the threat of the first season's storm coming to the high country we decide to do stuff reachable from the car in a day. We roll into The Meadows early on day one and the Stoke is high.
Racking in the parking lot after a breakfast of Tuolumne Lard never gets old.
Goal number one Eichorn Pinnacle via the easy route. "5.4, instant exposure!" the supertopo claims. Bah! Five four....we are totally four letter grades harder than that. Bring it on!
We huff and puff up to the notch, where we find the start of the route in a killer position. Ok, the exposure kinda gives me the willies but I don't share this with Adam. The little bit of ego boost that an overweight hiker with her hood flaps tied under her chin gave us by calling us hardcore when seeing the rope "peeking" out from under our pack lid vanishes with the scramble to the proper starting ledge. Dean Potter would not be impressed with the void below but we are.
Adam starts up but runs out of rope because we started too low. I get the main lead, which totally rocks. Steep climbing above the void.....big jugs...ancient pitons for pro.......then shocking rope drag as we somehow got up there with only four long slings. I set up a pathetic belay just shy of the summit and bring Adam up. He tries to look cool but instead smiles and giggles like a schoolgirl. Does it get any better than this?
He leads through and on to the summy.
Killer place, that summit.
It has that, "you gotta earn it" feeling. The summit register is empty but we need no pen and paper to cement our place in history as some of the fortunate few who have chilled out in this spectacular spot.
Two dudes from Berkley come up behind us and it turns out they have a buddy over on Cathedral who takes a shot of us on top.
How cool is that. Rather than the blurry, up close, one arm self portrait, we get a glory shot. Check this out.
We rap off and hoof it back to the car in time for a tasty dinner of Kung Pow Chicken and Spicy Peanut Pad Thai.
Day one in the books.
Then I proceed to nearly light the Meadows on fire with my pocket rocket by forgetting that my brand new 49.00 ultralight JetBoil pan has a plastic plate/lid on the bottom. Its ultralight cause its freakin' plastic! Nice.
I spy some mangy lookin' dudes lurking in the dark near our table and ask 'em if they are thru hikers. "Yeah...how'd you know...."
"Because you dudes look miserable, worked and hungry and you are wearing tennies and have more facial hair than the mystery lady at the Fresno Fair."
We ask them to join us for a warm meal and it turns out they lost thier stove..............................................................................ELEVEN HUNDRED MILES AGO! They have been getting by on tuna packs and energy bars for three squares a miserable day for who knows how long. Unbelieveable. They salivate and mumble as we prepare every one of our Mountain House meals for them. We will buy more food in the morning for our trip. Tonight is their lucky night and we chill in the parking lot, listen to Jackson Browne tunes and gorge until bloated.
They walked thirty seven miles that day and will be heading south into the maw of the High Sierra this week. They need the calories more than we do. 2700 miles sounds like a drag. We did four miles and my pinky toe has a quite painful blister. I get no sympathy but much thanks as we head off to the tent and they head into the meadow for another night of tentless "stealth camping."
Basecamp I: morning 2
gotta go for now.....I'll finish this later if anybody is interested....Day two and three to come...
Ok...where were we. Oh yeah. Day two. We wake to bluebird skies and head back Up to The Meadows. We have done a lot of stuff in the High Country on previous Project Mayhems (Cathedral East Buttress, Tenaya Northeast Buttress, Tressider) but hadn't ever just rock climbed in the sun. We thought we might go do something on Pywiack Dome then on to South Crack or West Crack on Daff.
Here we are ready gearin' up for Zee Tree, pretty much the softest route in the area, but high ego value due to hordes of traffic. What does it say about us that we require the adoration of the masses. Mark Twight would be dissappointed.
Zee Tree was great. We made good time and decided to finish on the 5.7 direct finish up the wide, steep crack near the summit.
last pitch. Steep and offwithth lieback. Money.
On the summit, I see something curious down by my now very small vehicle. Somebody is milling around near my FJ! Ok, now tthere is somebody sitting on the hood of my FJ! Get off my FJ! I yell in vain as thousand feet below somebody is messing with my baby. All I can do is close one eye and squish the perpetrator. There, take that. I am totally squishing you. Hurts doesnt it?
We dine on Anacortes smoked salmon and enjoy looking down on the litle people below who admire us as death defying men of danger and strength. They have no idea whether we climb 5.7 or 5.12. They don't know our route doesn't have an (X) or even an (R) behind it. To them we are simply bad to the bone. And we like it that way.
(gotta run.....post more soon...it gets good soon after this...)
We don't really have time for another route that day, so the big question comes...what to do now? "You know, Mammoth is only like an hour away. We could peel outta here now, eat at the Mobile Station, sleep on the ground in Mammoth and climb this cool looking thing called Crystal Crag tomorrow morning."
"Dude, that puts us in Mammoth on Sunday evening....with a long drive back to Fresno."
"Bring it on!"
"No you bring it on!"
"No you bring it on...I'm in!"
"No, I'm in!"
"Dude we're Mammoth bound!"
""Day two in the books! Done deal."
Turns out it was my daughter on the hood of my Toyota. We never saw her, but she was on a "fieldtrip" with her Fresno State climbing class and saw the FJ sittin at the pullout. She even took a nice shot of us on the route. Coincidence?,,,,,,,,or fate? You decide.
On the way to mammoth I kill a thousand bugs with my windshield. Man I love the smell of the Eastside. That sage, the warm wind, the smell of alpine opportunity flows heavily along the breeze.
Even the clouds are bigger out there.
We hit Mammoth at full stride and the FJ comes to a screeching halt....what is that smell.......Kielbasa?.....Hops?....is that German Music?........OCTOBERFEST!!!!! We are doomed! We can't go straight into the backcountry! Is it legal to detour like this in the middle of an expedition? What would Bonnington do? He'd probably march on to high camp. I'm more of a Joe Simpson man. He'd stop and have a pint. So stop we do. Let the Fest commence.
Then somehow we find ourselves past dark in a pub having a fair game of snooker.
and a couple Guiness......and Some Bangers and Mash.....
we fight the strong desire to be lulled by the fair maiden of comfort into another ESPN college football game and another round and soon find ourselves sleeping on the roadside above Mary Lake. The stars sing us to sleep and all is well in the universe.
All is well in the universe other than the fact that we are awaked in terror at 2:30 am to a snarling coyote creeping up on us. Our headlights shoot out into the darkness to reveal another set of eyes 50 yds away. We scream and shout like frightened adolescents until they creep away into the shadows, bothered to have awakened their prey. Kinda tough to sleep after that. Adam even thinks about just heading up the trail, but I fall back to sleep dreaming of the golden granite we will dine on tomorrow.
We wake with the majestic Crystal Crag looming above the lake. Fishermen quietly launch their floattubes. We make oatmeal and brew black death coffee. Day three is upon us.
The approach is like a mile and a half or two and we blast it. We are animals today. Our strides are strong, our mountain legs plow uphill with the greatest of ease. Messner would have struggled to keep up and Viestures would have been begging for a water break.
Before 9:00 Adam is sending the first pitch.
"Dude you totally look like Steve House...just different." I yell up to him.
"Dude, you look like Steve House." I yell louder.
"I know....." is all he replies.
Here he is, looking a lot like Steve House if you aske me.
The real Steve House, note the similarities. At least the jacket.
Crystal Crag does not let us down. Three nice steep pitches bring us to the very crest. We weave up through a killer white band of quartzite and onto a sidewalk in the sky. The ridge is long and exposed and nicely continuous. What a great route! Little white puffy cluds continue to build and congeal. Will we make it off before the October gods become angry?
Adam poses for a screensaver shot on the 6inch wide crest. A true little gendarme. (say "Yon-darm")
This is about the halfway point on the ridge
Its two pm and we still have a long way to drive, so we decide to forget the next 45 minutes of ridge. We scramble down a third class chute and run down the trail. Missing the summit doen't bother us. Twight and House do it all the time. "the mountains are a measuring stick for me as a man," Twight says. "...summits are not."
Day three. Three Summits, three days. (The North Summit counts...o.k?)
We get back to town in time for a sale on all Patagonia goods at Mammoth Mountain Sports. I grab a black polo for 40 percent off. "A perfect piece for a session on the boulders or a night on the town" to steal a phrase from the Pattagucci catalog. It will make for great discussion starter for my city friends. "Guess where I got this....You ever heard of Project Mayhem?"
Sinister clouds boil around the crest as we shoot Northbound on 395.
Blazing Fall colors attempt to burn off the clouds above, but winter will soon have its way with Tioga Pass.
Rain hits us as we skitter past Tenaya Lake.
We laugh in the rain's face! We scoff at the weather! We bray like wild donkeys! "You can't touch us now, can you!" Bah! We escaped. We are fast. We are strong. We are bulletproof! Epic somebody else today! Today we are far above average!
Rain pelts the windshield. We round the bend and Clouds Rest comes into view. Awesome, moody, mellow. Like a van Gogh painting or something. I still have this shot as my screensaver. It takes me back to that day. Those three days of sunshine and solid stone under the fingers. Great meals, new friends and stars so bright you struggle to sleep. The Meadows are magic. Project Mayhem 08 goes off without a hitch. Being slightly above average has never felt so good. Soon the snow will come. A new season and a new game await. Time to dig out the Tele gear, put new batteries in the beacons and sharpen those edges. Project Winter Mayhem is just around the corner.